I recently framed a New Yorker cartoon from the 1930s that shows an irate King Kong barging into an office with a paper in his hand and confronting a man cowering behind his desk.
The caption reads: "Are you the motion-picture reviewer of this newspaper?"
It's doubtful Kong will have to worry that critics won't like the new version of his tale.
"King Kong" is what every remake should aspire to achieve.
It captures the same sense of otherworldly wonder as the 1933 version. It's better acted and better staged. It's more frightening, more humorous and more exciting. Yet it's still very much the same story of "beauty and the beast."
Director Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) has explained in numerous interviews that when he saw the movie as a kid, it inspired him to start rendering his own super 8mm versions.
I wish I could have experienced Jackson's "King Kong" when I was 10 years old. Unfortunately, I got stuck with the not-all-that inspiring Jessica Lange version produced by Dino de Laurentiis in 1976. (Confession: I still saw it twice.)
The fact that Jackson's film takes place during the same year as the original makes it that much more of an homage than a crass modernization like the previous remake.
"King Kong" opens with a snapshot montage of Depression-era New York. Bread lines intersperse with industrialization, while a vaudeville performance showcases the talents of a beautiful blond.
Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is a struggling actress who hasn't eaten in a while and becomes even more dispirited when her theater gets closed down.
King Kong ****
As director Peter Jackson's stellar "King Kong" remake climbs toward its inevitable conclusion, the full impact of his vision becomes evident. The sight of the mighty ape taking futile swipes at bullet-spitting biplanes from the top of the Empire State Building remains one of the most awe-inspiring and utterly sad images in movie history.
Get movie listings, reviews, and more at lawrence.com
Meanwhile, producer Carl Denham (the peculiarly cast Jack Black) is having a hard time convincing his producers to send him on an adventure-melodrama shoot to "a primitive land never before seen by man." The Cecil B. DeMille wannabe recently acquired a map to a mysterious island that everyone keeps telling him doesn't exist.
When Denham learns his money men plan to scrap the new production, he absconds with the equipment and crew and heads to the docks. He's also without a leading lady, and upon a chance meeting with Ann, he cons her into joining the ocean-going expedition.
"You're perfect," he tells her. "You're the saddest girl I've ever met."
Also along for the cruise - somewhat against his will - is screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who instantly finds a mutual soulmate in Ann.
The exposition of "King Kong" is admittedly long (it's an hour before the crew even reaches Skull Island), but it's never dull. These early scenes have the kind of loose, slapstick feel of the screwball comedies of the early 1930s.
Once the party runs aground on the rocky shores of the hidden locale, the movie kicks into a furious pace.
Ann is kidnapped by natives and prepared to be sacrificed to a 25-foot ape that lives on the outside of a gigantic protective wall. But for Jack, Carl and the rescue party who attempts to reclaim the girl, Kong is often the least of their worries. It's not just an ape that has grown to gigantic proportions in the fog-shrouded environment, but spiders, bats, mosquitoes and fanged worm thingies. Oh, and there are enough dinosaurs to open a Jurassic Park franchise in the Pacific.
Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens wisely leave to the imagination the mechanics involved with transporting the captured Kong back to the mainland. Instead, the film cuts straight from Skull Island to the island of Manhattan, which makes the transition that much more jarring from the creature's perspective.
By the time Kong is shackled before an aristocratic audience and forced to be the centerpiece of a jungle-themed show so tacky it could have been choreographed by Debbie Allen, it's almost too emotionally unbearable to watch.
There is not a person on the planet who won't root for the star to break free and take an intensive "tour" down Broadway.
Jackson's re-creation of 1933 New York may be the most special of the special effects in his picture. It's hard enough to make a giant beast going on a rampage in the Big Apple look convincing, let alone doing it in period.
As the film climbs toward its inevitable conclusion, the full impact of Jackson's vision becomes evident.
The sight of the mighty ape taking futile swipes at bullet-spitting biplanes from the top of the Empire State Building remains one of the most awe-inspiring and utterly sad images in movie history.
Nature is murdered by technology. Innocence is slain by greed.
"It was beauty killed the beast."
Peter Jackson proves, however, that with the right balance of passion and skill, this cinematic beast is worthy of being resurrected.